Your daily habits play a big part in your productivity. Here, Ciara Conlon shares her advice for mastering those habits at work.
It is estimated by neuroscientists that 95pc of our daily actions are done at a subconscious level, carried out without our conscious brain being aware of what’s happening. That could explain why I’m standing at the fridge again, staring eyes glazed over at the contents. It may also explain why I have picked up my phone more than 100 times before midday. Most of your mind is a preprogrammed set of behaviours, a lot of which you learned at a very young age.
So much of what you will do today, you will do because you did it yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Not only do we often do the same things every day, but we also think the same thoughts. The sad thing is we do this regardless of whether those thoughts and actions are contributing anything positive to our life. In fact, most of your life is lived through habit, habitual thoughts and actions carried out, commanded by the subconscious mind.
What if you were to become more aware of what those habitual thoughts and actions were? Then you could decide whether they should stay or go. When you wake up to your current habits, you can start to practise the daily habits that will help you be more productive at work and may even take you a step closer to becoming a happier and more fulfilled person.
Below are some of the habits that you can install into your daily routine, in order to help you accomplish this and possibly much more.
Working with the end in mind
You have heard it before, the necessity to be clear about your goals. What are your KPIs and are you working towards them each day? Your team’s goals should be so clear to you, you should be able to recite them on a soapbox when called upon to do so. Get clear about your goals and look at them daily to ensure you stay on track. Without the vision, it will be difficult to work towards the end goal.
Prioritise the priorities
When you are clear about the goals, your priorities become more real and obvious. Your priorities are essentially the tasks that help you achieve your goals. If at the end of a busy working day you feel unproductive, chances are you were working on stuff that wasn’t a priority. The habit of scheduling will help you to make time for your priorities. Plan each day in advance to ensure you have made time for your priorities. This is one of the habits that will help you stay in control of your time and tasks, and move you from performance to high performance.
The raging beast of email. In the past decade, futurists predicted a no-email future, with the spread of project and task management tools such as Trello, Teamwork, Evernote and Microsoft Teams, to name a few. The plan was to ditch email and take back the control of our time, our tasks and our team sanity. Things have improved but we are not there yet. Process your email every day, planning the work to be done rather than reacting to emails as they arrive in your inbox and using your email as a to-do list.
Richard Branson claims he gets an extra four hours of energy a day by working out in the morning. If it works for Branson, it might be worth accepting that exercise should be a part of your workday. Schedule it like you would any other task, ideally in the morning so you can get the same benefits as Branson. If you don’t manage it in the morning, then don’t go home from work until the exercise is done.
Working less to get more done
Most of us still equate the number of hours worked with productivity, even though we know it to be untrue. Scandinavian countries have been experimenting with a shorter work day in order to increase productivity. Your boss might not be too keen on that idea but if your time is your own to plan, limit it. If you currently work eight hours a day, reduce your workday to seven hours, then six. Measure the results. If you work eight hours for someone else, make sure you take regular short breaks. This helps to refresh your concentration, stretch and practise positive habits such as refilling your water glass.
One of the most basic human traits is also one that most of us struggle with: communicating. We beat around the bush, we half-listen, we come to our own conclusions and we misinterpret messages received. It’s a wonder we get any meaningful work done at all. Choose an area of your communication that needs to improve, whether you need to listen more, clarify instructions or speak your mind. Focus on that one area and make an effort each day. It’s only with daily repetition that we can reprogramme ourselves for better behaviours.
Being where you are
One of the habits I have seen transform people and their teams is the habit of presence – being where you are. Maintaining focused attention on the task or people in front of you. We live in the age of distraction, constantly connected to the grid. Most people find it difficult to sit still for longer than a minute, feeling uncomfortable with their own thoughts. Try to have mindful moments during each day – set reminders to ‘be present’. Your effectiveness, success and even happiness are influenced by your ability to be in the here and now.
If you decide to improve your daily habits, choose one to focus on first, start small and make a commitment to yourself. Choose what you want to submit to your unconscious mind and at least make sure that what you are programming your mind to do is positively impacting your work and your life.
By Ciara Conlon
Ciara Conlon is a high-performance leadership coach and author of three books on productivity.